Barcelona are out of this season’s Champions League but gave themselves and the fans reasons to be proud after a 1-1 draw at the Parc des Princes in the Round of 16 second leg against PSG. Barça played a truly exceptional first half and could have gone into the break with a lead of at least three goals, but a combination of poor finishing, questionable refereeing and a great night for PSG goalkeeper Keylor Navas led to a draw and a graceful European exit for Barça.
Barça played one of their best halves of football in recent memory in the first 45 minutes, dominating possession, pressing PSG to near suffocation and controlling the threat of Kylian Mbappé on the counter-attack almost perfectly.
The first 25 minutes were truly sublime, and Ousmane Dembélé was unplayable. The Frenchman required two amazing saves from Navas and played a great cross that Lionel Messi couldn’t reach for a tap-in, and Sergiño Dest hit the crossbar for good measure.
Barça should have scored at least twice in that amazing start, but they couldn’t and were then punished by three minutes of madness, which started with Óscar Mingueza receiving a yellow card then almost being sent off 30 seconds later for two bad fouls on Mbappé, and then Clément Lenglet accidentally stepped on Mauro Icardi’s ankle and was called for a ridiculous penalty after a VAR check, and Mbappé scored from the spot to give PSG the lead.
Barça could have collapsed after those three minutes but quickly picked themselves up and continued to attack, and Lionel Messi scored one of the greatest goals of his career with a rocket from 35 yards to equalize and give Barça life. Then, just before halftime, Layvin Kurzawa kicked Antoine Griezmann inside the box and there was a giant chance for the Blaugrana.
Messi stepped to the spot, took a poor penalty and Navas saved it against the crossbar. At halftime, a spectacular Barça deserved to be at least three goals up, but the game was somehow 1-1 with an impossible job for the Blaugrana to do in the second half.
Barça worked so hard in the first half that they were bound to have a drop in energy in the second, and that’s exactly what happened in the first 15 minutes or so of the final period, though the Blaugrana still did an excellent job of stopping Mbappé who was quite simply dominated by Junior Firpo in that period.
PSG’s plan was to defend all match and with the Mbappé threat completely neutralized by Barça, all the home team could do as we reached the final 10 minutes was park the bus and hope for no more troubles until the final whistle. Ronald Koeman sent as many attacking players on as he could, but Barça looked completely out of energy to come up with three goals in the dying seconds.
The Blaugrana never gave up but couldn’t find another goal, and the final whistle came to officially end their European journey this season. But this was a night of encouragement, courage and pride for a team that refused to quit and put up as good a fight as they could have done.
Frenkie De Jong and Junior Firpo were immense at the back, Messi had his best European performance in a while and Ronald Koeman put together a great plan to stop Mbappé. Now it’s all about La Liga and the Copa del Rey Final for the rest of the season, and I am confident in this team now. They’ve made me proud. Thank you for the fight, boys.
Paris SG: Navas; Florenzi (Dagba 76’), Marquinhos, Kimpembe, Kurzawa (Diallo 46’); Gueye (Danilo 59’), Paredes, Verrati (Rafinha 84’); Draxler (Di María 59’), Icardi, Mbappé
Goal: Mbappé (pen 30’)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Mingueza (Firpo 35’), De Jong, Lenglet; Dest (Trincão 66’), Busquets (Moriba 78’), Pedri (Pjanic 78’), Alba; Messi, Griezmann; Dembélé (Braithwaite 78’)
Goal: Messi (37’)